Bharat Mata worshippers may be gradually conferring a hegemonic masculinity upon her. Created by a masculinised national memory that nurtures a deep sense of humiliation since Partition in 1947, Bharat Mata, or Mother India, is becoming a fiercely assertive, armed and aggressive warrior, willing to spill blood to avenge the deaths of all men killed in war and combat. These deaths are described as the supreme sacrifice made by sons who chose to lay their lives to prevent or avenge their mother’s humiliation.
The notable point is not that such an oxymoron, a killer mother, has come to be celebrated, but that Indian women themselves have had no known part in creating this myth, however much some of them may applaud it from the side.
The prototype for an armed and combative Mother State (Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, Philipp Veit’s Mother Germany replete with sword, flag and armour, Mother Sweden portrayed as a Valkyrie warrior) usually emerges in nations that have suffered years of war and famine.
In colonised India, we have its first glimpse in a 1873 play, Bharat Mata, by Kiran Chandra Bandopadhyaya, written when Bengal was reeling under famine and starvation. This was followed by another novel, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famed account of the militant uprising of sadhus in Anandamath lustily singing a hymn to the Mother Nation, Vande Mataram. By 1936 a Bharat Mata temple had been built in Haridwar.
Around the same time, the idea of a Mother Nation also began to acquire a tangible cartographic form. Many calendars and hand bills distributed since then show Bharat Mata as a feminine icon in a sari with a golden crown upon her head. She holds a saffron flag in one hand, while the other is raised in benediction (abhay mudra). She is flanked by a fierce tiger reminiscent of Goddess Durga, a blood-thirsty warrior and defender of the faith, the killer of the dark demon Mahishasur.
By now, the restoration of an unpartitioned India (Akhand Bharat) is very important to the right wing. So we see Bharat Mata’s saffron flag covering the entire state of Pakistan, even as her flying mane spreads over the Himalayan region, including Kashmir. And the broad edge of her sari flapping in the winds, sweeps up the southeastern region, right up to Thailand. This is the image to which all swayamsevaks, attending shakhas all over India, offer their first morning prayers (ekatmata stotra).
In societies such as ours, where by and large, the male standpoint dominates, and aggressive patriotism further legitimises male control, emasculation becomes the biggest threat to those that are at the helm of affairs because it symbolises loss of both power and dominance. Therefore, napunsak (impotent) is a word that occurs frequently in speeches made by leaders of all right-wing parties. It denotes an utter lack of power and independence of thought and action. One of Karnataka’s former deputy chief ministers, K.S. Eshwarappa, used this word for then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Shiv Sena leader, the late Bal Thackeray, used it countless times to berate his opponents. More recently, the BJP’s own Margdarshak Mandal complained of a total “emasculation”.
The RSS has always been a hierarchical system, controlled at the top by seasoned men who have long served the party. Strangely, even though the bonding between citizens and the nation is mediated through the Bharat Mata figure, the shakha, described as being its keystone, does not allow the daughters of Bharat Mata to join her sons in joint sessions. Nor has the apex decision-making body within the RSS ever had a woman at the top as the sarsanghchalak.
All three women-specific branches of the Sangh — the Rashtra Sevika Samiti , Shiksha Bharti and Durga Vahini — accept this happily. They are strongly critical of most ideas of mainstream feminism, liberal sexual mores permitting a free and unsupervised co-mingling of the sexes, LGBT rights and the concept of dating, all of which they deem as Western imports.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was articulating this when he recently said that rapes happen only in India (read the English language- and feminism-supportive nation), and not in Bharat. He also said (in his January 2013 address to RSS cadres in Indore), “the theory of social contract says that you (women members) look after the household chores and satisfy me (the man), I (the man) will take care of your needs and protect you”. The author of Mein Kampf, who wrote, “True idealism is nothing but the subordination of the interests and life of the individual to the community” and “The sacrifice of personal existence is necessary to secure the preservation of the species”, would have approved.